Long before Saint George encountered his legendary beast, the Dragon played an influential and beneficial role in Chinese culture. An amalgam of several creatures, including monitor lizards, pythons and the Chinese alligator, the polymorphic dragon was a water spirit, responsible for bringing the rains and thus insuring the survival of crops. The dragon was symbolic guardian to the gods, and was the source of true wisdom. This latter feature most likely resulted from the observation of the living reptilian counterparts which, usually at rest, seem to be in a near constant state of contemplation.
The dragon represented two of the ancient elements, Earth and Water, endowing the creature with powers of elusion and power. A Yang symbol, the Taoists saw the dragon as a personification of the Tao itself--"the Dragon reveals himself only to vanish." Shaolin Buddhists saw him as a vision of enlightened truth, to be felt, but never to be held. Certain very old men were called dragons, these being well versed in the life-supporting skills of herbal medicine, agriculture, and gung fu. In early China, these skills were surely a matter of life or death, and those so educated were held in high esteem.
ORIGIN OF THE DRAGON STYLE
The original stretching and twisting movements associated with Dragon (Lung Ch'uan) were part of Boddhidarma's exercises which he taught after founding Shaolin temple in Honan around 570 A.D. The true emergence of a martial discipline can be traced to about 1565 A.D., but the originators are uncertain. Two legends seem noteworthy. One states that the Shaolin nun Wu Mui created the style by using moves of deception and melding with an opponent. The other credits a monk, Mui Fa San Yang with contemplating his gung fu training and daydreaming about countermoves, when he became inspired by the twisting movements of the dragon. The style was called Yow Kueng Moon, and was advanced by Yang's abbot, Tit Yang Sum Si. Both these stories place the origin at Honan Shaolin Temple. Since then, Dragon Gung Fu has evolved into two distinct styles, Southern (1565) and Northern (1680). Each consists of non-temple variations, in essence units of instruction taken, incompletely, from Shaolin, and molded into family styles. A new synthesis to organize the Shaolin styles and systematize a combined approach was begun in 1972. Of historical note, the style considered southern was the original form brought south from Honan, while northern evolved in the north after the burning of the temple in 1570 A.D.
METHODS AND PHILOSOPHY
Dragon is essentially an internal, ch'i cultivating method, but initial training is far more similar to a hard, external style than a delicate, reptilian approach. In learning the moves, the student will strike hard, block hard and stomp into each position, with the idea of learning the proper place to be once each movement is complete. Eventually, the method of transmitting power is retained, and the physically strengthened body is able to make transitions in the proper, fluid manner. In turn, this reptilian smoothness helps disguise the attack, making it extremely difficult for an adversary to effectively counter.
Once a purely physical semblance to flow has been mastered, the disciple incorporates the deep hissing sounds to train ch'i flow. Inhaling is silent, but exhalation is deliberate, tense and controlled. Inhaling lightens the body for aerial maneuvers, while exhaling drives power into each technique. Blocking is dispensed with, and parries or simple strikes substituted. At this point, novice and advanced student show very little in common.
On the highest level, an opponent is allowed to tire himself out, evasion becoming the Dragon's key defense. Ch'i control is highly developed, and the degree to which the body must be moved to redirect or avoid impact is under greater control.
The forms that comprise this system are divided by complexity into three categories, and are enumerated below:
• 16 Hole
• Passing Bridge Three Times
• Fierce Tiger Leaping Over Wall
• Rescue Master From Single Side
• Single Sword and Mount
• Press and Hit from Four Sides
• Eagle Claw
• Bridge Smashing
• Touch Bridge (introduces sticking hands)
• Venomous Snake Moves Tongue
• Hua King's Fist
• Standing Five-Form
• Cross Standing Five-Form
• Turn to Hook and Hit
• Five Horses Returning to Stable Palm
• Plum Flower Punch
• Seven Ways of Plum Flower Punch
In each form, one is taught to "ride the wind", a phrase which in large part means follow rather than lead. Provide no opening without first letting your opponent open. Unlike Crane, which also relies heavily upon evasion as a tactic, the Dragon evades primarily by rotation of upper or lower torso with little or no stance movements, while the Crane stylist hops frequently to reposition the entire body. Both styles employ pinpoint strikes to vulnerable meridian targets, but dragon also heavily uses tiger-like punches and clawing techniques, snake-like stance shifts, and leopard-like hit and run strikes to weaken a physically superior adversary. Dragon also regularly employs low sweeping techniques, but these are not unique; most senior stylists of any gung fu system use these on a weakened adversary.